It is not every day that you get to do design thinking in the most populous city in Africa. So, when you do get the chance, you better document it.

We had a wonderful, fun and productive time at our Design Thinking workshop in Lagos. With professionals drawn mainly from the banking sector. The design challenge was to “Design an Inclusive Financial System”.

Participants were formed into two teams A/B from Day 1, introduced to the challenge and paced up over four days with short presentations and introduction to design thinking, principles, fundamentals, case studies and stories. The sessions were conversational, creative and practical. Each presentation for a new tool and method was followed up with practice and application to the challenge. We used the Double Diamond Method as the framework for our workshop and challenge.

Double Diamond Framework

Starting with research and empathy, participants went out on the streets of Lagos to interview people and understand people’s financial needs, their dreams and WHYS. Gathering and sorting out this feedback on a large sheet of paper, and using empathy map to organise the needs and user characteristics.

After this exciting process is the synthesis and deriving the insights, this is done by using a combination of tools such as the customer journey maps and building a persona of what the ideal user/target customer looks like.

Next is the ideation– generating and developing ideas to improve the experience of single touchpoints, channels and entire customer journies. Then use tools such as persona to focus on the user needs and mind map to find relationships within ideas and sorting them into themes.

How do you visualise ideas? (Prototyping). Getting into action with prototyping to learn and test the ideas, turning ideas and discussions into visual artefacts to stir the conversation. We used a variety of tools such as foams, sketches, shaped post-its, gums and tapes to create different versions of the idea on a blueprint map.

For the final solution, we deployed stakeholder maps to understand and think about who is involved and how the idea will work. Further iterations were done to polish the ideas into a viable business proposition. Using a business model framework to access the viability of the idea and how value will be created. Then developing a story around the business idea in preparation for a pitch to a team of dragons.

At the end of the four days, Team A came up with an idea called, ‘Settlement Moni’ which is a financial program for traders inform of insured contributions towards settling apprentices (Idu-Uno in ‘Igbo’). The story behind this idea is interesting. Team B developed an ‘SME Marketplace’ that will connect SMEs to cheaper loans, a network of partners and business coaching such as social media, etcetera.

Design thinking Lagos
Well, Team B won (hurray!).

Here is what we learned over the four days of intensive doing and we hope they inspire you.

  1. Problems at the local level reflect much deeper systemic issues. This is something we feel, rather than have evidence of. The asymmetry between what we’re being told is the problem and what we feel about it, can stoke a deep sense of fear and distrust. So, when we propose new ideas, one of the biggest barriers we face is distrust on whether it will actually work. So you have longer debates and conversation on every idea and touch point decision. This is positive.
  2. Finding and relating the design challenge to a story of a problem we all know exists is an excellent way to start. People will have lots of personal experiences to share. The different perspectives show up at the end and on the artefacts. We learnt there are no boundaries and a good thing to let the biases out.
  3. One of the standout sessions was the ideation session. Voting, synthesising and merging ideas. And seeing how the ideas transform from the post-it notes into something more tangible. We learnt that ideas do not come out fully formed. That the most successful business ideas of today are the result of experimentation, prototyping and iteration.
  4. Being open to wild and radical ideas can be transformative. Being speculative and provocative about futures during ideation can be a game changer. Let’s keep policy and regulation aside and imagine a utopia!
  5. Cocreation and collaboration is the new facilitation. People feel a sense of ease working alongside experts. So, we blend into teams and work. That team-based approach creates the sort of mindset that design thinking thrives on.
  6. When we finally pitch the ideas, focusing on the story is important. Marketing can stretch sales only to a certain extent unless the perspective is revisited. Storytelling is therefore not about sales or marketing but about finding narratives to connect emotionally with the problem. This is a very good skill that participants can take into their everyday practice.
Design Thinking Image with people posting post its

We are finally on the verge of building a community and a large crop of design leaders in Nigeria. I can imagine that not all the participants will get to use their design skills immediately due to organisational factors. But design skills are lifelong skills and like we always say, ‘‘the process is the design’’. We value people changing themselves first before changing the system. That process is important.

We hope that the experience and practice of design thinking within niche organisations and communities from tech to banking, third sector and government will add up to shape the future of management and business in Nigeria.

And on a personal level, individuals can change society by choosing different policies for their own lives and using their design thinking skills and a collaborative attitude to create transformative social and business ideas and practices that influence our ways of living.

Dr Ikem with participants

Charles Ikem, PhD. is a Service Designer and Lead, design and innovation at DesignThinkers Academy, Nigeria